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A point made on Teachers’ Day

“Vicky, who do you hold responsible for what happened to you?” Odissi dancer Alokananda Roy had asked Nigel Akkara, aka Vicky, long after she started training the inmates of Presidency jail. “Teachers,” came the prompt reply from the man serving term for kidnapping, extortion and accessory to murder. Yet, it was at the intervention of another teacher that Nigel gained a new identity.

The Association of South Point Ex-students (ASPEXS) celebrated Teachers’ Day by honouring Roy, known to her students in prison as Ma.

Roy recalled how a math teacher would scold her for being more devoted to dance than studies. “‘Will you dance your way through life?’ she would shout, making me feel very small. Today, I can proudly say I have done just that. And I have stuck to my promise of treating all students equally. I never asked them what they had done to land in prison unless they confided on their own.”

Also present on the occasion were B.D. Sharma, the former IG of prisons who had thrown open the prison gates for Roy’s classes, and Abhijit Dasgupta, a former Pointer whose film on Roy’s culture therapy sessions was screened on the occasion.

“At first, I shot only the making of the stage production of Valmiki Pratibha. Then it struck me, ‘Where is the jail in the film?’ It took me a while before the wardens let me shoot inside jail and the inmates started speaking in more than monosyllables,” said Dasgupta of the class of 1962. His film, The Jail, won a special prize at the San Francisco Golden Gate Fiction and Documentary Festival.

“The greatest problem prisoners face is dignity crisis. Earlier, cultural programmes would be held only on the premises. Taking the show outside the four walls was important,” Sharma said.

“Once they had the self-respect, I knew they would never lose it again,” Roy said.

Dalbir Kaur Chadha, the principal of South Point School, suggested that the documentary be shown to current students as well. “The film would help sensitise them and make them realise how privileged they are.”

“Teachers should be role models. This was a beautiful way to celebrate Teachers’ Day,” said Sayak Roychoudhury, an ASPEXS member.